Monday, February 17, 2014

Making Money In Publishing Is TOUGH!

On Feb. 13, Joshua Brustein wrote a fantastic article on the issue of self-publishing and whether or not it is the best approach to take for authors. This was Brustein's response to an article that had been published earlier by an Amazon KDP author Hugh Howey earlier last week. I have to say, I loved Brustein's article. Not so much about the fact that he really dissected the numbers that Howey used in his study, but to really examine the issue of making money as an author. In simple terms - this is a tough business to be in.

Brustein writes, "While the report has largely served as a way for the two wings of the e-publishing industry to stake their claims, it also serves as further proof that it's damn hard to make much money typing out sentences. Writing for Digital Book World, Beth Weinberg, a sociologist studying the digital publishing industry, parses the data to show that few of the authors in Howe's analysis are making a living. 'IN Howe's data, 944 authors out of the 3,439 authors of the almost 7000 Amazon best-sellers (with estimated sales great than one book per day) wer estimated to have earned above the federal minimum wage ($7.25 x 8 hours - $58/day) from their best-selling books on data collection day. This number represents more than a quarter of the top-selling writers in the selected fiction genres (27.42%), but it is an extremely small percentage of writers in these genres with books for sale on Amazon."

I think we can take several things from the Howey, Burstein and Weinberg articles.

First, I found it interesting that the Howey article went pretty much viral when it came out on Wednesday. Authors who, it seemed had been struggling for various reasons in the traditional publishing realm and decided to jump to the self-publishing realm were hyping up the article as "finally the truth is out!" This once again proves that you cannot take everything you see on the Internet as the gospel truth or the entire picture. As the Brustein article comments, this is just one "snapshot of a single market on a single day." I do think we all have to look at the numbers carefully before proclaiming all of the numbers as being entirely accurate.

Brustein said something that I have been saying for a long time. When we hear these "great numbers" about the authors who are making it, I have always said their are the anomalies, they are the exceptions, they are, as Brustein noted of Howey "the outliers." In other words, sure, there are people who are making it. There are people who have found a way, but it is not that way for the majority of the writers out there.

My grandfather, who was a Methodist minister before he died commented once that the problem with quoting things from the Bible, is that you run into a lot of serious contradictions. You can pretty much find anything in there to support "your" claim depending how you spin the quote. I have to say, the Howey article seems to do just that.

Secondly, and I think this is the bigger issue from the Brustein article that stood out to me was the simple fact that making money in publishing is not easy. I am always shocked at the number of authors who pitch to me argue that their goal is to "quit their jobs and just write full time." Ummmm, probably not going to happen!

Writers have to be realistic. In reality, publishing is a great business where we can turn a hobby into something that makes us a little bit of money (and maybe a lot depending on that book and your hard work). You have to love what you are doing because it will probably take a while for that money to really start rolling in. If you think of many of the big guns out there in publishing, they have been writing for a long time before that success hit. James Patterson published his first novel in 1976. Stephen King wrote his first novel, Carrie in 1973 (BTW his advance was only $2500 and his paperback rights earned him $400,000 according to a quick internet reference check. For Debbie Macomber, it was 1983 with a book to Harlequin. The point is, it takes time.

Look, I don't care what approach you as an author decide to take with your publishing.

  • Write 100% in the traditional market
  • Write with a blend of traditional and self-pub.
  • Writer in the indie market 100% of the time
  • Write with a blend of any of these.
  • Write it on papyrus and float it down a river.
  • ...I don't care!
We need to walk away with a few things here: A) writing is tough and making money at it is even tougher; B) be careful what you hear and read as being the gospel truth; C) find the approach you want to take that works best for you; and D) be realistic!

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